Saturday

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (vv. 1-2)

Revelation 21:22 – 22:5 Saturday 13 September 2014


Background

One of the most important cultural shifts in the thousand yearsbefore Christ was the move away from the earlier small,family-based, rural, agricultural and tribal communities towards amore organised, city-based societies - with a correspondingconcentration of religious and political power in the hands ofurban elites. There has always been a tension between these twoways of organising human existence, with urbanisation seen asprogress by some, and as symbol of all that is bad by others. It issignificant, for example, that the Genesis story of the Garden ofEden was probably written during the Jewish exile in the great cityof Babylon. Paradise is a rural dream, not an urban nightmare. AndRome, in turn, came to represent all that was evil in the eyes oflate 1st-century Christians.

So it is interesting to see how, at the end of the book ofRevelation, the vision of post-persecution perfection is set in acity. Babylon/Rome is replaced by 'the new Jerusalem' (Revelation 21:10; an image first found in theOld Testament apocalyptic book of Ezekiel), the city of the Lamband the centre of the world. But this is a 'garden-city', whereparadise is found in an urban setting, with the river and the treeof life relocated from the Garden of Eden. And the fruit of thattree, now ripe and ready for picking, feeds the faithful who havepersevered in the face of persecution - "those who are written inthe Lamb's book of life" (v. 27) - and the leaves will bringhealing to the world following the ravages of Rome.

Here God, and not the emperor, will be worshipped - as in theold Jerusalem Temple, destroyed by the Romans in AD70. And here,too, all of God's people, and not just the High Priest, will "seehis face" (v. 3), and will share with God in ruling the earth.


To Ponder

  • The writer of Revelation sees post-persecution 'eternal life'lived in a transformed earthly 'garden-city', not, as manyChristians do, 'in heaven'. Which image do you prefer? Why?
  • The idea of the Church ruling the world (well, 'Christian'Europe anyway) became a reality after the 4th-century conversion ofthe Emperor Constantine. Do you think that was a good thing?Why?
  • How might all of this inform the way Christians live theirlives in the 21st century?
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